Psychology, Department of


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Published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine 57 (2023), pp. 260–268.


Copyright © 2022 Society of Behavioral Medicine; published by Oxford University Press. Used by permission.


Background Child temperament styles characterized by increased emotionality or pleasure seeking may increase risk for less healthful eating patterns, while strong executive control (EC) may be protective. The interaction of these characteristics with longitudinal outcomes has not yet been examined.

Purpose The aim of this study was to examine the association of preschool temperament and EC, as well as their interaction with adolescent eating.

Methods Preschoolers (N = 313) were recruited into a longitudinal study, with behavioral measurement of EC at age 5.25 years, temperament assessed multiple times across preschool, and eating outcomes assessed in adolescence (mean age = 15.34 years).

Results Separate latent moderated structural equation models demonstrated that weaker EC was associated with eating less healthful foods, including high sugar foods, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and convenience foods (p < .05). In the moderation models, negative affectivity temperament was correlated with eating less healthful foods, high sugar foods, and SSBs (p < .05). Children lower in surgency/extraversion temperament were more likely to drink SSBs. There was an interaction between temperament and EC, such that children high in negative affectivity with weaker EC were particularly more likely to consume less healthful foods, high sugar foods, and SSBs (p < .05). There was no interaction of surgency with EC and food consumption.

Conclusions Child characteristics measured early in development were associated with later adolescent eating behaviors. Adequate EC could be necessary to counteract the drive toward eating associated with temperaments high in negative affectivity.

Lay Summary A preschool temperament style called Negative Affectivity, characterized by high levels of reactivity and negative emotion, predicted eating patterns a decade later. These children were more likely to eat less healthful foods and drink sugary drinks as adolescents. Strong executive function skills were important for redirecting toward healthful eating in children with Negative Affectivity.

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